Many years ago in a bookstore in Portland, Oregon, we were fortunate to attend a book signing by the legendary Marcella Hazan. Mrs. Hazan was to Italian cooking as Julia Child was to French cooking, and we were thrilled the octogenarian was still out and about and signing books!
Born in a fishing village in the gastronomic region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, Marcella spent her young adulthood studying not food, but science, and earned doctorates in natural sciences and biology. In 1967, after marrying her Italian-born American husband, Victor, they moved from Italy to New York. Up until that time, she told us, she had never cooked, and her Italophile new husband loved food. But, she remembered the tastes and smells of the dishes that were prepared in her childhood home, so the scientist in her began experimenting with cooking and soon was able to reproduce those dishes. Shortly after, she started giving Italian cooking lessons in their apartment, then in 1969 she started her own cooking school. Craig Claiborne, then the food editor for The New York Times, asked her to contribute recipes to the newspaper. We can thank Marcella for bringing Italian cooking to America. Her first award-winning book and its sequel were compiled into my personal favorite the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a must-read for any cooking enthusiast. Her cooking focuses on authentic, traditional cooking.
When asked by an audience member at the bookstore what her secrets to great cooking were she responded in her thick Italian accent, "use only a few simple ingredients." One of her most popular recipes is for Roast Chicken with Lemons, a dish where you simply season a chicken with salt and pepper, and stuff the cavity with two pierced lemons. This is simply the best darn roast chicken ever, and it's so easy.
Tip: Be sure to save the bones for making bone broth, which comes out with the lovely flavors of lemon.
Roast Chicken with Lemons
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
3 - 4 lb chicken
2 small lemons
Salt and fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Wash the chicken thoroughly in cold water, inside and out. Remove the neck and all the bits inside, then trim any loose hanging fat. Drain all the water from the inside and pat dry. Rub generous amounts of salt and pepper on the chicken, and sprinkle some inside the cavity as well.
Wash the lemons, then soften them by rolling them with the palm of your hand on the counter. This helps release the juices on the inside. Then, with a skewer or toothpick poke at least 20 holes (through to the pulp) into each lemon. Stuff the lemons into the cavity, then close up the opening either with toothpicks or trussing needles and string. Don't close it up air tight or the chicken may burst during cooking.
Put the chicken breast down in a roasting pan. The chicken is self-basting, so it won't stick to the pan. Place it in the upper third of the oven and roast for 30-35 minutes. After 30 minutes, carefully turn the chicken over (breast up). Try not to break the skin. If the skin remains intact then it will swell up like a balloon, making for a fun presentation! Cook for another 30-35 minutes, then turn the oven up to 400 degrees and continue roasting for another 20 minutes.